My beachcomber bike isn’t meant for the hilly roads of New Hampshire, but here we are.
There’s a perverseness to this tableau. Here I am, seated upright on my dainty, turquoise bicycle, saying hello to twice as many neighbors on that ride around the block than I would in an entire month. Someone in one of the backyards is grilling. Another has started a campfire. Skies are blue; sun filtering in through the trees.
But all of this is happening in the midst of — and because of — a pandemic. You can see it in how we give each other ample breathing room by going into the middle of the road to avoid each other. Riding alongside us is the absolute dread, uncertainty, stress, tedium, frustration, and fear that has been our constant companions for almost a month.
There’s something simultaneously Rockwellian and Orwellian about it.
It’s cliched, in a way. If a horror movie opened like this, the audience would roll their eyes. It’s too on the nose. All that is missing is “What a Wonderful World” overlaying a montage of ER nurses breaking down, bodies being loaded into big rig trucks in NYC, army convoys transporting the dead in Italy. The polar extremes of everyday, modern life.
Beachcombers are not equipped for this trek. But mine comes with a feature few have: gears. Only five, but it’s enough to get me up the moderate slopes, and with enough elbow grease I can make it up the hills without stopping.
I’ve been in a constant state of grief. The first few weeks, a hazy, surreal anxiety — the kind where I’d drive home and have no idea how I got there. A combination of such paralyzing grief and such bullheaded determination. And now, in the midst of the fourth week, determination has shifted to determinism — what will be is already destined to be, and I’m just along for the ride now.
Everything seems to be in a state of superposition. This is Schrodinger’s pandemic. Life is simultaneously quiet and loud, normal and not. There is so much that needs to get done and yet a vast openness of nothing on the to do list. I’ve had plenty of time and yet not enough of it. Every unfair, lopsided, toxic situation, every bit of injustice, that simultaneously seem like tiny fish now and yet exactly worth rehashing. We only have the present moment, but also the past and the future blinding us with floodlights.
And we won’t know whether it was Rockwellian or Orwellian until the lid is lifted.
But that’s the thing about Schrodinger’s Cat: the cat is already dead. The thought experiment was to poke fun at quantum mechanics. Another tale of irony that slipped through the cracks.
I’ve been here before.
I tell myself that. In truth, none of us have. There is no one alive who would’ve been old enough to remember the Flu of 1918. The closest we can do is create Venn Diagrams. Use analogies. Social distancing is to the blackout orders of WW2 as… well, all the analogies seem to go back to WW2, don’t they?
But I have. I make my own Venn Diagrams. That surreal, hazy anxiety, just like five years ago, when your father’s health spiraled out; when he died and so did your step-mother and so did your brother-in-law and you nearly lost your brother to a motorcycle accident. When a predator put your life on pause and every aspect of your life was upended and you stopped knowing who you were or what you even wanted anymore. That feeling of superposition — to look out at a calm landscape and feel the tremors of dread below your feet. To feel days as both individually eternal and blurring together.
My career is in temporary tatters. Online options have been the aloe vera lotion to a third degree burn. I’ve grieved this, grieved the hard work over the last six-plus years, to build things up, only to watch it disintegrate in front of me — but I’ve been here before. That feeling of having to start over, from seven years ago, when I burned out and had to face the truth that I wasn’t cut out for the job I had returned to school for, build up my credentials for, lost sleep and gained tears and stress stomach aches for. Of suddenly waking up without a job to go to, with any real income coming in, and wondering, “Well…what now?”
I’ve simultaneously in uncharted and charted waters. I have well drawn maps to territories I’ve never been to before.
I’m not equipped for terrain like this. But I can shift gears, however few I may have. And maybe with enough elbow grease, I’ll make it up this hill, too.